Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy is trained to take a bullet as the former point man on President Barack Obama’s security detail. But he appeared ill-prepared to take a hit from Congress.
After a month on the job, Clancy was forced to admit decades-old institutional problems within the agency that resurfaced nearly two weeks ago, when two agents ended a night of drinking by driving into a White House barricade during an investigation of a suspicious package. On Tuesday, furious lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee blasted Clancy for not immediately firing the agents who were involved.
“I don’t have the ability to fire people at will,” said Clancy, who appeared contrite and beleaguered under a constant barrage of criticism.
At the same time, he acknowledged deep-seated issues within the service that is charged with protecting the president and his family.
“We do have an element that goes to alcohol” as a coping mechanism to deal with stress, Clancy admitted. He said many other agents deal with the job rigors through family, church, and exercise.
Clancy also informed lawmakers of an internal attempt by colleagues to shield the agents who were involved — Mark Connolly, the No. 2 on Obama’s security detail, and George Ogilvie, a senior supervisor in the Washington field office. He said the incident was not immediately reported up the chain of command, and Clancy himself did not hear about it until five days later.
Lawmakers were unmoved by Clancy’s candor. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) called Clancy’s testimony “shocking.”
She said Clancy should foster a new culture at the Secret Service that puts agents on notice that changes could come as quickly as the time it takes to tell employees to go find a new job.
“We’re talking about a respected member of the Secret Service who was absolutely drunk,” Lowey said. “It would take five minutes to change the culture,” she said.
Clancy was contrite but said his hands are bound until an investigation by the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general is complete.
Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) was more colloquial with Clancy, but echoed condemnations from the panel.
“Dude, you don’t have to earn their trust. You’re the boss. They’re supposed to earn your trust,” Stewart said.
The March 4 incident is the latest in a string of missteps by the agency, including a failure to protect President Ronald Reagan during a 1981 assassination attempt. Over the years, multiple incidents have highlighted problems with alcohol, extramarital affairs, and lack of discipline.
During Obama’s time in office, the agency has been embarrassed by a string of high-profile scandals. In 2012, agents brought prostitutes into their hotel in Colombia before the president arrived for a meeting. In 2014, a man jumped the White House fence and made it into Obama’s home before he was stopped. Also last year, an armed contractor was allowed to ride in an elevator with Obama.
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